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On Being Very Poor

 
 
Reply Sat 18 Nov, 2006 08:03 pm
My own experience with poverty bears a hallmark of extreme ignorance and cruelty. My Mom attended the grades, one, three and five. She achieved a reading competence that afforded her pleasure in her favorite magazine, The Reader's Digest. Working her youth away as a migrant laborer, she had little opportunity to learn social skills. She ran off with a boyfriend at age sixteen, had three sons from the resultant marriage, then gave her husband the slip to go to California with her parents. As a result, I have no remembrance of that side of the family. The few stories about the man paint him as a thief and alcoholic, a cruel, selfish person.

It didn't take her long to meet and marry a man who was not one whit better than the first. My heart sank into my shoes when she announced, "This is your new father."

We brothers always feared and mistrusted him from the first. He was courtly to the extreme with Mom, but even early on, he displayed suspicious traits, such as pushing everyone away from the table until he had eaten his fill. He had a way with teasing and picking at one calculated to make one feel small.

After several years, the routine was, he took his paycheck and vanished three or four days, lasting until his money ran out. The days he spent with us became increasingly hostile. My younger full brother, he picked at to make him feel ridiculous and fearful. Me, he decided would be the stupid one. He sat me down by the hour, breaking down my esteem, working til my thought processes developed a way of short circuiting. He picked a puppet of Edgar Bergan's (Mortimer Snurd), tried to make me out to be the same mentality. "Snurd" was my name, as far as he was concerned. My older brother was less subservient, and the only sibling given responsibility for anything. He had the nerve to talk back, and I never saw him given corporal punishment.

My mom had nine more children by this man. She told the doctors at the charity hospital early on she wanted a surgery to prevent further pregnancies. They declined, until the twelfth child was born. "You are too late," she reportedly told them.

Our sole source of support was welfare, paid to my two full siblings and me. We ate beans. My step father brought in eggs and steak for himself. My school lunch consisted of two slices of bread, a thin slice of baloney, and two dry cookies. Twice during the year, we were provided two pairs of blue jeans, two shirts, a new pair of shoes. By the end, the knees were blown out and I used wire to hold the soles of my shoes from flapping.

I had developed symptoms of autism by the time I started to school. I don't know when autism was invented, as a malady, and I don't know that my conditions actually apply. I sat through entire semesters without uttering a syllable. When children befriended me, they had to do all the talking.

By the time I became fourteen years old, I was pretty well defeated. I could "know" within myself that I was "special" and even belive I would one day be famous. But, I cowered before the entire world.

My step father became increasingly unstable. One evening he came home polluted. He took his butcher knives (he was a short order cook in a bar and grill) and informed my brother they were to fight it out with them. He ended up in jail that night.

At this point, he decided to move out (These kids don't want me here, and I'll be God damned if I'll stay). He spent the next year trying to get back in, but Mom found enough spine to resist. We boarded a train and moved back to Texas.

My brother took a job with an uncle at a pay of $1 an hour. A year later, I quit school to work with my grandfather for $7 per day. I was a willing worker, but had to be told what to do. They decided by my silence I must be stupid and treated me accordingly. I wanted very much to seek another line of work. I held a mortal terror of approaching potential employers. It is a fear which lasted beyond my fortieth birthday. I stammered, could not look them in the eye- -I was refused a job in a burger joint and a drive in movie concession stand. So I stuck with my relatives, until I married, at age thirty.

I finally began working the same type of jobs, except now with strangers. Eventually, I got jobs as a boss and even employer. But, I could not do business, allowing customers to dictate all the terms.

After I became a maintenance man, I achieved success- -not in a job I actually wanted, but at this I was good, and eventually became close friends with increasing numbers of people.

I don't tell my story, here, crying, and demanding sympathy. In fact, I don't need it. I have a good life, and am quite content. My purpose in writing this is to lay out the structure of poverty as it effects one life. I know not all poor persons are the same as me. Many are worse off, intellectually and emotionally, and others grew out of poverty at a young age. All I want is for the ones who resent the poor for being needy, to understand, that the poverty stricken are not willingly so. I worked twice as hard as anybody else at the jobs I did, but the good money and positions of importance always went to ones less deserving.

Pure welfare is not the answer in dealing with the poor, as different folks have different needs. The dismantled welfare systems that were built during the 1950s and 60s mostly threw money. The officials responsible were guilty of arrogant abuse of power. One person may need a bit of counseling, as did I. Another merely vocational training. Whatever. But, it is too costly! ****! It is not too costly to span the globe with a powerful military, or to give handouts to corporations. Why is it too costly to attend the needs of citizens? The priority of this century ought to be people, not military-corporate adventurism.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 7 • Views: 5,057 • Replies: 51
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Green Witch
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Nov, 2006 08:37 pm
Edgar, you are an example of what I have witnessed in my many years of working in food pantries. The majority of poor people don't want a hand out but a hand up. They need that extra boost to get them out of the black hole they have fallen into. Almost all are there because of a few bad decisions made by themselves or a family member. Other than some people that have true mental illness, I've found that most of these people are capable of fending for themselves once they are given the opportunity and support.
0 Replies
 
lezzles
 
  2  
Reply Sat 18 Nov, 2006 09:08 pm
edgar - That must have taken so much courage to lay your soul bare like that. I can see you were not looking for sympathy, so I will not insult you by offering it. Rather I will thank you for showing me that while my own background was one of poverty and depression, it was rich in so many ways.
0 Replies
 
NickFun
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Nov, 2006 09:15 pm
Edgar, I have read that you can judge the character of a man by the size of the obstacle it takes to knock him down. There is no doubt, you are one of the greatest!
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Nov, 2006 09:18 pm
Thank you.
0 Replies
 
CalamityJane
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Nov, 2006 09:24 pm
Edgar, for those of us who have never felt hunger or poverty, your story
is a good reminder that we as a society have an obligation to help the
less fortunate while at the same time allowing them to keep their dignity.

I know you're of Mexican descent and we have so many legal and illegal aliens in our southern states who are dirt poor, yet never ask for a hand out. They are all willing to work for their daily bread and are proud to
being able to support their families, even the ones that are at home in
Mexico.

They all deserve our respect and not our pity.
0 Replies
 
blacksmithn
 
  1  
Reply Sat 18 Nov, 2006 09:29 pm
Wow.

Your story took my breath away. There are no words...

Thank you for your courage and honesty.
0 Replies
 
flushd
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 04:32 am
Edgar,

Thank you. You put words to an experience where there is that cloak of silence and shame all too often. So many of us, silenced and at a loss for what to do or say.

Your story truly drives home the importance of words, their power, and the courage it takes to find one's own voice and use it.

I love your stories and poems. You tell the truth. So rare.

Thank you for not varnishing over the cruelty and abuse. More of us need to hear that though it can seem like we are the only one in the world all alone - there are others out there who have been there and are there, and it is not a personal fault. There's too many suffering in silence.

Sincere gratitude and love to you.
I also agree with your views on welfare. I'd love to discuss it, but not on this thread.
0 Replies
 
Francis
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 04:40 am
Edgar, I knew you were a man of courage and I admire your achievements.
0 Replies
 
dadpad
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 04:51 am
Edgar, you'll be welcome in my shed for a beer and a yarn anytime.

I'll tell the other blokes, he dont say much but when he does you sit up and pay attention.
0 Replies
 
Dutchy
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 05:37 am
Edgar, I don't often wander the threads, but today was an exception and I'm so very pleased I did, otherwise I would have missed your awe-inspiring story. You are not only a man of great mettle but also one with a great deal of wisdom. Your message comes through loud and clear. I trust it will be read by many, it is worthy of a special 'Achievement Award'.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 07:43 am
I thank you all for your wonderful responses. I was afraid to even look in here this morning. It's good to know the gist of the message seems to have gotten through. My own children were not teated to an ideal beginning, but all are functioning on their own and have nice families.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 07:46 am
One misconception: I have no Mexican heritage. I am a hodgepodge of English, Dutch, Irish, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Tejas.
0 Replies
 
Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 07:59 am
Great story, edgar. It's so good to know you better now. Keep on truckin'!
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edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 08:08 am
I have concluded that most persons who denigrate the poor have no empathy. They view the poor much as one views a nuisance stray animal. No story similar to mine can touch them. That's why those in the know have to keep pushing.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 09:09 am
Green Witch wrote:
Edgar, you are an example of what I have witnessed in my many years of working in food pantries. The majority of poor people don't want a hand out but a hand up. They need that extra boost to get them out of the black hole they have fallen into. Almost all are there because of a few bad decisions made by themselves or a family member. Other than some people that have true mental illness, I've found that most of these people are capable of fending for themselves once they are given the opportunity and support.


This is so true. My agency served very poor people, most of them on welfare and/ or SSI. They wanted nothing more than to be self-sufficient, even though they had to give up a lot in doing so. They were hugely appreciative of the chance to learn job skills and get a job, and were quite successful as a group.
0 Replies
 
snood
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 09:35 am
Thank you for telling that story, edgar. It touched me, and helps me understand better who you are. I also appreciate your views about people that cannot empathize.
0 Replies
 
Tico
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 09:48 am
Thank you, Edgar.

I also grew up poor -- not as poor as you, but poor enough. It's hard to shake the shame of it (and having good-natured wealthy people tell you that there is no shame in it doesn't help) although we can often hide it. It's hard for those who have never experienced real, long-lasting poverty to understand the totally debilitating effect it has on a person.

The other day, I listened to some acquaintances complain about how overweight many poor people are (with the tacit corollary that if they would just eat right, they would have more energy and more money and therefore be able to escape poverty). I've wondered about this before, and I know that there are many reasons both physical and psychological for the obesity, but listening to them a thought occurred to me: If you have ever been in a situation where you have been truly hungry for long periods, or you go daily wondering if you will have enough to eat tomorrow, or even worse, if your children will, then you will eat and eat and eat when food of any kind is available. It's a primal reaction that a light salad and logic are not going to allay.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 09:53 am
Tico
I was an alcoholic for a long stretch of my life. I told a friend once that I drank so much beer more for the feeling of being full than for the high. In fact, I rarely felt drunk, no matter how much alcohol I ingested. He, being the other sort of drunk, thought I was deluded and he derided me. I still eat too much, but at least it's more vegetables and meat now.
0 Replies
 
Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Sun 19 Nov, 2006 03:56 pm
Edgar--

Thank you.
0 Replies
 
 

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